BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. did not meet Thai military officials in
Hawaii during March to plan their 2016 multinational military training
exercise and instead indefinitely postponed future contact, signaling
an ongoing rift between the two allies after Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha
seized power in a coup last year.

"Decisions concerning the exercise will be made over the course of the
next months in consultations with Thailand, the co-host of the
exercise, and other participating countries," said a statement issued
by the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) and the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok,
according to Stars and Stripes which is an authorized Department of
Defense news outlet.

"The United States has indefinitely postponed a planning meeting with
Thailand for next year's Cobra Gold exercise, a decision that comes
months after the U.S. scaled down its part in one of the world's
largest multinational military events," Stars and Stripes reported
from Tokyo on April 16.

Shortly after the U.S.-Thai meeting fell through, Gen. Prayuth
increased his powers on April 2 by replacing nationwide martial law
with his interim constitution's Article 44 which gives him absolute
power to rule without judicial, legislative or executive oversight.

Washington has repeatedly called for the coup-installed regime to stop
putting civilian dissidents on trial in military courts, lift
censorship, allow political gatherings and return the
Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation to democracy.

"The Thai military is confident the postponement will not lead to a
cancellation of the annual exercise," which would be held in February
2016, the Bangkok Post newspaper reported on April 15.

The U.S. earlier scaled down its February 2015 Cobra Gold military
exercise in response to Gen. Prayuth's May 22 coup, and halted a token
$4.7 million in security aid to Bangkok and other training.

Cobra Gold 2015's large-scale, live-fire training exercise associated
with an amphibious landing was cancelled and the number of U.S. troops
who participated in February was cut by about 1,000 personnel to

Washington began its annual Cobra Gold exercises in 1982 as bilateral
training with Bangkok.

Cobra Gold expanded over the years and included 24 nations in February
with South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and other
mostly Pacific countries, plus a non-combat role for China.

Despite frosty relations, U.S. Air Force's trilateral Exercise Cope
Tiger 15 quietly took place in Thailand from March 9-20, including
Singaporeans and 390 American personnel who trained Gen. Prayuth's

U.S. and Thai analysts appear divided over whether or not Thailand is
rushing to form closer relations with China and Russia in response to
its rift with the U.S., or instead anxiously welcoming all nations to
befriend its coup-installed regime to prop up Bangkok's flattening

From April 8-10, Thailand's Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon visited
China accompanied by Bangkok's top officers from the army, navy and
air force. It was his second trip to China since the coup.

Chinese officials visited Bangkok in February.  Last year, Beijing was
quick to greet the new military junta with promises of friendship and
improved relations.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's April 6-8 visit to Bangkok
resulted in trade deals, revived relations and a public snub at
Washington by Gen. Prayuth who praised Moscow's friendship when "a
friend is in trouble."

Before Gen. Prayuth toppled the popularly elected government of Prime
Minister Yingluck Shinawatra one year ago, Thailand and the U.S. were

Both sides were overcoming the damage caused by Gen. Prayuth's
participation in a 2006 coup which ousted Ms. Yingluck's elected
brother, then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

During Mr. Thaksin's 2001-2006 administration, U.S.-Thai military
cooperation included Bangkok's help in capturing and renditioning to
the U.S. a handful of suspected Islamist terrorists, plus assistance
in refueling and maintenance for U.S. warplanes used for fighting in
Iraq and Afghanistan.

During America's failed U.S.-Vietnam War which ended in 1975, Thailand
allowed its territory to be used for airbases so U.S. planes could
bomb neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos while Thai troops fought
side-by-side with Americans in Vietnam and Laos.

U.S.-Thai relations hit their lowest during World War II when Bangkok
allowed Japanese forces to occupy Thailand, prompting U.S. and British
planes to bomb Bangkok and most railway bridges across Thailand during

About 700 Americans were among the 60,000 Prisoners of War (POWs) used
by Japan as slave labor in Thailand.

The Americans suffered alongside 30,000 British, 18,000 Dutch and
13,000 Australian POWs who were forced to build a so-called Death
Railway through Hellfire Pass into Burma, which became known as "The
Bridge on the River Kwai".


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978.

His websites are